Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. America has lost the battle over government (Financial Times)

Both parties are accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state, says Jeffrey Sachs.

2. To hell with Gradgrinds – go to university (Independent)

It matters that we live in a country that no longer believes in training minds from all backgrounds, says Laurie Penny.

3. It’s Sweden that Assange fears, not America (Times) (£)

Whether the WikiLeaks founder likes it or not, he is no political refugee, says David Aaronovitch. But he has a real case to answer in law.

4. If Romney beats Obama, Ryan will set the tone and call the shots (Guardian)

The candidate is no Sarah Palin, and should he come to office he could be a tough foil to an indecisive president, writes Martin Kettle.

5. China’s very different election show (Financial Times)

The country’s democratic process is in full swing, but the result of the election will not be left to chance, says David Pilling.

6. A-level results: a day to celebrate (Guardian)

Don't listen to the cynics and the grumblers, writes David Willetts. Opportunities are being opened up in higher education like never before.

7. We volunteered for Games, but not for Big Society (Independent)

Volunteering at the London Olympics was a glorious one-off, but a one-off nonetheless, writes Mary Dejevsky.

8. The reason I won't be buying Fifty Shades of Grey loungewear (Guardian)

What do EL James' trilogy, Cosmopolitan and cosmetic surgery have in common? They seem to be about sex, when really they are about shopping, says Zoe Williams.

9. I hate to say it, but Boris is right: The government must stop pussyfooting around (Daily Mail)

As one alarming statistic after another confirms the dire state of the British economy, we should be in no doubt that the Government is fiddling while Rome burns, writes Daniel Johnson.

10. Our South Africans are on a sticky wicket (Daily Telegraph)

Kevin Pietersen is only one of many to use the England team for his own selfish ends, says Peter Oborne.

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Autumn Statement 2015: whatever you hear, don't forget - there is an alternative

The goverment's programme of cuts is a choice, not a certainty, says Jolyon Maugham.

Later today you will hear George Osborne say there is no alternative to his plan to slash a further £20bn from lean public services by 2020-21. He will also say that there is no alternative to £9bn cuts to tax credits, cuts that will hit the poorest hardest, cuts of thousands of pounds per annum to the incomes of millions of households.

But there is.

As I outlined here the Conservatives plan future tax cuts which benefit, disproportionately or exclusively, the wealthy. Suspending those future tax cuts for the wealthy would save, by 2020-21, £9.3bn per annum.

I also explained here that a mere 50 of our 1,156 tax reliefs cost us over £100bn per annum. We don't know how much the other 1,106 reliefs cost us - because Government doesn't monitor them. And we don't know what public benefit they deliver - because Government doesn't check.

What we do know, as I explained here, is that they disproportionately and regressively benefit the wealthy: an average of £190,400 per annum for the wealthiest.

And we know, too, that they include (amongst the more than 1,000 uncosted reliefs) the £1bn plus “Rights for Shares Scheme” - badged by the Chancellor as for workers but identified by a leading law firm as designed for the wealthiest.

Simply by asking a question that the Chancellor chooses to ignore - do these 1,156 reliefs deliver value for money - it is entirely possible that £10bn or more extra in taxes could be collected without any loss of  public benefit

To this £19bn, we might add the indiscriminate provision - both direct and indirect - of public money to wealthy pensioners.

Those above basic state pension age enjoy a tax subsidy of up to 12% on earned income.

Moreover, this Office for National Statistics data (see Table 18) reveals that the 10% of wealthiest retired households - some 714,000 households - have gross pre-tax and pre-benefit private income of on average £43,983. Yet still they enjoy average cash benefits from government of £11,500 per annum.

Means testing benefits to exclude that top 10 per cent of retired households would save £8.2bn per annum. And why, you might wonder aloud, should means testing be thought by the government appropriate for the working age population, yet a heresy for retired households?

Add in abolition of that unprincipled tax subsidy and you'll save even more. 

So there are alternatives. Clear alternatives. Good alternatives. Alternatives that enable those with the broadest shoulders to bear some share of the pain. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.